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As befits a movie in which characters quote Albert Camus’ “The Stranger,” pretty much everyone in Rupert Wyatt’s “The Gambler” (a remake of the 1974 James Caan movie) seems to be having some sort of existential crisis. Unfortunately, said crises aren’t particularly entertaining to watch. At the movie’s center is Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a rumpled English professor at a California university who berates his students in group-therapy-like literature seminars by day and skulks in blue-lit gambling dens by night. At the movie’s start, he owes $240,000 to a gambling ring — and, as one does, borrows money from a dangerous gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams) and an equally scary loan shark (John Goodman). There’s no way this can work out well, is there?

It doesn’t — not for Jim, and not for the movie, a dull, self-consciously arty wallow in the messed-up life of a character we don’t care about. Wyatt finds a few moments of spark: Jessica Lange, as Jim’s arctic mother, telegraphs her disgust with her son in every gesture (she ultimately walks away from him, head held high); a bald, tightly wound Goodman, essentially playing an enormous clenched fist, is all menace. But Wahlberg can’t find a way to make his character’s behavior believable, particularly in an absurd late sequence (is he suddenly Superman?). At the gambling den, we watch Jim’s money slip away like water between his fingers; soon enough, we realize that the movie’s disappearing, too.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or